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Top 8 Most Popular Programming Languages [2023]

04.22.2023 • 8 min read

Outlier Staff


Learn what the most popular programming languages are and their relevance in today’s market. Plus, get tips on what to keep in mind when choosing the right fit.

In This Article

  1. What Are the 8 Most Popular Programming Languages?

  2. Why Learn Programming Languages?

  3. What Is a Programming Language?

  4. How To Choose a Programming Language

The images the James Webb Telescope sends back to Earth are from over 13 billion light years away. These pictures of distant galaxies will change what we know about outer space.

The James Webb Space Telescope is ‌one of countless technological advances. And at the heart of its operations? A computer programming language.

In the fast-paced tech world, programming languages are essential for a wide range of professionals. And some languages are more popular and versatile than others.

In this article, we'll explore the top programming languages to learn, including their features, advantages, and uses. Whether you're a beginner starting your programming journey or an experienced developer seeking to expand your skills, this guide will help you choose the right language for your needs.

Using the TIOBE Index, the languages in our list have been trending consistently in the top 10 this year. The TIOBE index is a monthly ranking of popular programming languages. It identifies usage trends across industries and helps programmers stay up to date with demand.

1. Python

No matter the year, Python always appears in the top 5 of any programming language ranking. It's an open-source programming language and requires no license.

Python is a high-level language ‌supporting object-oriented programming. It’s a versatile, general-purpose language and is platform independent. Developers use Python in a range of applications, such as:

  • Data science

  • Artificial intelligence

  • Machine learning

Python is easier to learn than languages such as C or C++. It works well with agile development and DevOps implementations, which allow you to efficiently create applications and services. You can also use Python as a robust scripting language for creating software tools that don’t require memory management or multi-threading capabilities.

2. Java

Java is a high-level, object-oriented programming language used for back-end or server-side development. It's reasonably easy to learn and has a large developer community. Developers primarily use Java for application development, desktop computing, and game development. It's a static language ‌that supports multi-threading capabilities.

Unlike Python, Java is a compiled language, which generates an executable file to run on a target machine. Running code through a compiler identifies possible errors to minimize runtime errors.

Since runtime errors require debugging source code and recompiling code once corrected, this makes Java more efficient. While compiled code is more difficult to troubleshoot and requires more resources to deliver corrections.

3. JavaScript

Despite its name, JavaScript differs significantly from Java. It's a scripting language and is interpreted at runtime. Unlike Java, it can only execute one command at a time. As a dynamic language, it depends on other elements in its environment for some resources. Developers commonly use JavaScript as an alternative to PHP—another scripting language—in web development.

As a scripting language, JavaScript is easy to learn and deploy. It enhances functionality on the front end. For example, JavaScript validates data as it’s entered into an online form. This ability reduces the resources the server needs to process web page content. Designed as a procedural language, JavaScript makes programming loops or if/then branches easier for client-side applications.

4. C

Like Python, C is a general-purpose programming language. In fact, Python extension can be coded in C. C was created to run on UNIX platforms, but it's machine independent. It operates in Windows, Linux, Android, and iOS environments for mobile app development.

C is a code used for programming operating systems. If you’re interested working with a Linux OS, C will be a requirement because the operating system is written in C. As a mid-level language, C is regularly used for programming embedded devices and creating drivers and kernels.

Because of its simplicity compared to other compiled languages, C is also a faster-performing programming language. Even if low-level programming is not your primary interest, C makes learning other languages, such as C++ and Python, much easier.

5. C++

C++—pronounced C plus plus—is a general purpose programming language ‌used in complex programming environments, such as:

  • Gaming

  • Graphics

  • Web Browsers

C++ is a mid-level or intermediate programming language. It facilitates coding abstractions while retaining the ability to interact with low-level hardware. These features make it a dominant language for video games requiring resource manipulation and speed.

The same capabilities make it the preferred language for graphic presentation. C++ efficiently performs computation-intensive tasks, so graphics display faster. While many websites rely on scripting languages, the browsers themselves are ‌written in C++. For example, Safari, Chrome, and Firefox all use C++.

Large corporations with complex operational needs use C++ for software development because it enables control of resources, such as memory.

As a compiled language, it operates faster than Python. Its extensive libraries and functions ‌make C++ easier to work with in complex implementations. If you're looking to work in a large organization, learning C++ may be a strong choice to advance your career.

6. C#

C#—pronounced C sharp—is an object-oriented programming language derived from C++. In fact, it would be difficult to separate C# from C++ code at a cursory level. C# combines some features of Java into its implementation, making it easier for inexperienced programmers to use. It removes the need for developers to manage memory and pointers that can result in stack overflows.

The language has a garbage collection feature which reclaims unused memory, offers exception handling, and guards against unallocated object variables.

Unlike C++, C# is compiled into bytecode rather than binary code. When C# runs, it's compiled into machine code using Microsoft's .NET, which operates across platforms. When you need peak performance, C++ is the preferred choice.

7. SQL

For some computer scientists, SQL—structured query language—is not a programming language. However, programmers consider SQL a programming language that communicates with relational databases. Data analysts use this specialized language to extract information from an SQL database. MySQL is an open-source database solution using the SQL standard.

SQL is an easy language to learn. In just 2 to 3 weeks, you can learn the basic concepts of:

  • Select

  • Create

  • Insert

  • Update

  • Delete

More advanced functions, such as nested queries, indexing, and query optimization, take much longer. As data analysis becomes more crucial to business operations, SQL programmers who can extract the most value from databases will be in demand.

8. PHP

PHP originally stood for Personal Home Page, but now it stands for Hypertext Preprocessor. PHP is an open-source scripting language used to develop and maintain websites. It’s considered one of the easiest programming languages to learn. Although PHP continues to slide in TIOBE's index, it's not going to disappear anytime soon.

PHP has dropped from number 5 to number 9 in the last 10 years. However, large platforms such as Facebook, Slack, and WordPress rely on PHP. Migrating any of these applications to a different language would be ‌costly. Such a move would also impact any plug-ins or interfaces that currently exist.

PHP 8 was recently released, and frameworks continue to be developed for PHP programmers. As long as websites such as Wikipedia use PHP, there will be a need for PHP coders.

Why Learn Programming Languages?

Computers Need People

In the early 1960s, an IBM 704 computer—the size of a room—was installed at NASA's Langley Research Center. The computer’s purpose was to help NASA's team calculate complex spaceflight and orbit equations.

The problem? No one knew how to operate this $1-million machine.

That is, until Dorothy Vaughan—a human computer who calculated aircraft and space missions by hand—stepped in.

It turns out the IBM 704 was programmed in FORTRAN, one of the first programming languages. She not only learned FORTRAN but also developed a training program to teach it to her colleagues.

Vaughan's efforts were instrumental in helping the NASA team ‌use the IBM computer to its full potential. Her coding with the IBM even helped generate the necessary trajectory calculations for astronaut John Glenn's safe return home after orbiting the Earth.

Think of it this way. A language in general is a system of communication. It involves a set of text, vocabulary, patterns, conventions, etc. Language helps us communicate ideas and solve problems, whether it’s Spanish, Italian, or American Sign Language.

A computer language like FORTRAN is similar. Except you are communicating to computers and getting them to work for you. Using a set of instructions and commands, you can have the computer program perform specific tasks.

Like a sword, a drum, or even a pencil, these tools need people to bring them to life and create solutions.

Computers Need Logic & Structure

Like NASA’s IBM 704 predicament, you can have a powerful machine or program, but it’s useless without people using logic to run it.

No matter the language or code complexity, a computer program is a series of binary operations, such as yes/no or on/off. The problem is determining how to get the software to perform complex tasks using only binary operations. The heart of coding is not the language but the logic required to build the program correctly.

For example, making an online purchase means dividing the process into a series of yes/no commands. The problem is deciding what questions to ask and in what order. If you ask for the form of payment, how do you construct the program as a series of yes/no commands when multiple forms of payment exist?

A common method to address complex tasks is the if/then binary structure. No matter the programming language, the logic used in the if/then structure is the same. Part of learning a programming language is understanding the logic required to produce the desired result.

Once the logic is in place, programmers need to learn how a certain language is written to build a structure such as an if/then sequence. JavaScript, for example, is a procedural language, meaning it can only execute one command at a time. This makes it easier to create if/then branches (sequences) in client-side applications.

Computers Create High-Demand Jobs

Deciding to learn a programming language can ‌pay off in your career. Careers using programming languages not only pay well; they’re also in ‌high demand according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

OccupationAverage Annual SalaryAnticipated Growth by 2031
Software Developer$109,02025%
Data Scientist$100,91036%
Computer Systems Analyst$99,2709%

While each of these jobs have their own ‌roles, they all require programming. The entry point for each career is typically a bachelor’s degree in computer and information technology. This is 1 of the 21 highest-paying online degrees you can get.

What Is a Programming Language?

A programming language is a formal communication system that allows humans to give instructions to computers to perform specific tasks or solve particular problems. It includes a set of rules, syntax, and semantics that create a structured sequence of instructions, known as code or source code. When a computer executes these instructions, it produces the desired output or behavior.

We can classify programming languages into categories, such as:

  • High-level languages

  • Low-level languages

  • Procedural languages

  • Object-oriented languages

  • Functional languages

  • Scripting languages

Each language has its own strengths and weaknesses suited for different tasks or applications. Developers and programmers use these languages to create software, websites, applications, and a wide range of digital solutions.

It’s necessary to know the differences between programming languages since they tend to relate to certain industries. Some programming languages are more restrictive than others and take ‌more time to learn.

You can start learning programming from the comfort of your own home with the Degrees+ program. Outlier.org has teamed up with Golden Gate University to offer an Associate of Science in Applied Computing degree. You can learn 100% online, on your schedule, through Outlier’s engaging platform and cinema-quality lessons.

As a Degrees+ student, you can earn your associate degree in as little as 19 months. Along with your degree, you earn a resume-boosting certificate from one of the leading tech companies, such as IBM, Google, and Meta.

How To Choose a Programming Language

Deciding to learn a programming language may mean balancing work, family, and education. You may have limited free time. Traditional courses may not fit your schedule. You may need the flexibility of an online course focused on building your programming skills.

Be sure to evaluate how the language will help your career. Do you need to learn a compiled language? If you're looking at back-end web development, Java may be an option.

Perhaps, you're thinking about a DevOps position. JavaScript is a popular language for creating automated test tools.

‌There's also the cost. Will the course fit your budget? Will you receive a return on the investment? Will you see an increase in job opportunities? A pay increase?

Consider taking a course in computer programming to see if it’s a good fit for you. Outlier.org offers a course in computer science for only $597—half the cost of the national average college course. You will learn programming skills in Java from engaging instructors who offer a uniquely human take on computer science. Plus, you’ll earn transferable credit you can take with you into a college degree program.

Going to school to learn any programming language is a life-changing decision.

I like thinking back on Dorothy Vaughan. But let’s look at it from a career perspective.

The IBM 704 was an expensive and innovative tool. But it was also something else.

A threat.

The IBM was reshaping the computing world. It also signaled the end of women computers like Vaughan.

Had she not taken the initiative to learn FORTRAN and teach it to her colleagues, they would have become irrelevant. And their jobs? Gone.

The book Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly explains how, “At fifty years old and many years into her second career, [Vaughan] reinvented herself as a computer programmer.”

I don’t know about you, but the words “fifty years old,” “second career,” and “reinvented herself” are ringing in my ears like inspiring bells of hope.

Reinvention is possible. Learning a new skill is possible. A new career is possible.

And who knows. Learning ‌computer programming may impact more than just your career.

Your work may help support a new space race into galaxies and worlds beyond.

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